Jonathan Mann found himself center-stage (digitally, at least) with Steve Jobs last week when the Apple founder selected his video, “The iPhone Antenna Song,” to lead a news conference about the iPhone 4’s antenna issues.
But for Mann, a 28-year-old from Berkeley, Calif., the song was just another day on the job. Mann has produced a song each day for more than a year, supporting himself via video contests and by writing customized songs for people (his rates range from $100 to $500 or more). Mann spoke to TIME about his project and his iPhone fame.
How long ago did Apple approach you about doing a video?
They didn’t approach me at all. It was me, last Thursday, saying to myself, “Apple is having an iPhone 4 conference tomorrow, and I have an iPhone 4 and an opinion.” I woke up on Friday morning, and it had been posted on TechCrunch, and I got a call from someone at Apple PR saying “Can we use your video?” and I was like, “…YEAH.” And then everything exploded.
Who’s the most famous person who has contacted you after hearing a song? What did they say to you?
I performed one of my songs live on the Rachel Maddow Show. She didn’t contact me personally, but I got to meet her and perform on her show because of a song on Paul Krugman. And Steve Jobs didn’t contact me—it was a PR guy who contacted me for the use of the iPhone 4 song. But, in terms of someone famous being aware of me in a cursory way, I’d say Steve Jobs.
Did you ever make up songs as a kid?
Definitely. I started writing songs at the age of 12. I basically discovered [Bob] Dylan for myself… It was something about turning that age where you start to realize things; I heard his music, and it affected me in a big way, and from then on it was a pretty straightforward thing. I knew I wanted to be a songwriter and I’ve been doing that ever since.
When and why did you start “Song a Day”?
I was looking for a big project to invest my time into. In graduate school I had written a rock opera based on the Super Mario Brothers that I performed around L.A. and and it wasn’t really going anywhere… Also, I started an online sort of video blog called “Gamejew,” which, like everything else I do, sort of tread the line between sort of pure silly and hopefully kind of genuine and meaningful at the same time. I’d been doing that for a while, and was just basically looking for something new. A friend gave me flier for something called “fun-a-day,” and it’s a thing that this art collective in Philadelphia called ArtClash has been doing for the last six years. At the end of January (2009) I was having such a good time writing songs that I decided to keep going, and I haven’t stopped since.
Since then, have you posted a song literally every single day?
Literally, every single day. Haven’t missed a day yet. In 564 days.
What if you have to take a really, really long flight, or something?
There are times where I’ll be in places where there isn’t any Internet, and this is the one exception. I’ll compose a bunch of songs and make the videos ahead of time. My mom posts them for me when I can’t.
Are there any topics you would never consider writing a song about?
I wouldn’t write something that was overtly, blatantly, mean… I’m a vegan, so I also wouldn’t write a song about meat or meat consumption.
What is the weirdest topic request you’ve ever gotten? Is there a topic that’s ever grossed you out, or scared, or you thought was really funny?
It takes a lot to sort of gross me out or to scare me. One of my favorite songs came from a request, which was “write a song about penguins having a party.” The song is called “Penguins Having a Party.”